My Story

 

THE STORY OF MY SECOND LIFE…

Hi, my name is Joe Gambitta and this is the abbreviated story of my second, third, fourth and fifth chance in my.   I must first tell you a little about my first part of my life leading up to these events.

I have lived a fairly full non-stop and exciting way of life for the most part.  I started in the restaurant business young at the age of 22.  I’ve owned a few restaurants and spent grueling hours trying to make a go of them.  Although the hours were merciless there were good times.  I married at 23 and started a family at the age of 30.  Ruth and I went on to have 3 children.

The business put a strain on our marriage and a concern to me, not being there for my children.  The stress and long hours led to late nights and partying too much.  I became a heavy smoker also.  We somehow managed and endured the struggles year after year.  I look back now and regret the mistakes I’ve made.

Finally after being in the restaurant business for over 30 years there was a little light at the end of the tunnel.  I acquired a banquet hall and catering business.  The pace was much slower, the hours were less and I started doing well with it.  I was excited to have my family back and realize what I was missing all those years.

Then the DAY came…  Labor Day Week-End in early September of 2010 I started feeling very fatigued.  My throat hurt and I had swollen glands.  I have never gone to a doctor but Ruth insisted I go to the pharmacy care.  They couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me much and said see your doctor soon.

I saw Ruth’s doctor soon after the holiday.  She advised me to go to a blood clinic for test.  I went the following day after a luncheon we were catering.  I got there at 12:20 on Wednesday and they closed at noon.  This clinic would take five days for the results to come back once I got tested.  I wanted to wait but now I was feeling very tired.  Ruth called her doctor again and advised that I go to Southwest Hospital Emergency.

After all the blood test and hours of waiting, they put Ruth and me in a small hospital room.  In came a doctor with my results.  You have Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  Our lives were never going to be the same after that moment…

Now that my life just passed before my eyes, all I could think of was I had two wedding ceremonies to cater Friday and Saturday.  I have great friends in the business that came and rescued us immediately.  I could go into a long story on how much they did, and how much they meant to me and my family, but like I said, I’m trying to make this brief and to the point.

I was ambulanced to my second home, University Hospital.  I was informed my white blood cell count was 250,000 and thank God that first clinic was closed.  I would not have made it five more days!

I started with a blast of chemotherapy for a full week which wipes out your blood cells and marrow. You’re left with no immune system which makes it very dangerous to overcome infections.  The next four weeks you wait and pray that you’re white and red blood cell count and platelets return to an acceptable number.  Mine did and was able to go home, thankfully.

I commuted back and forth weekly as my counts were monitored.  Once you’re counts reach a certain point, after about 6 weeks for me, you go back and do it all over again.  I did this a total of three times.       A bone marrow biopsy procedure was done to see if the leukemia cells were destroyed.  Finally I reached remission and hoped the pain and suffering would diminish.  How ignorant I was in knowing the way cancer relented.  I relapsed 6 months later…


 

Back to University Seidman Inn!  My option now is a bone marrow transplant.  After a couple month wait, we had to settle for an adult donor who was not a perfect DNA match.  The transplant was done and now another harsh round of Chemo.  This is a crucial time to see if the donor takes and my counts return.  Gratefully they did and now a long recovery awaits.  Everything was going as well or better than expected.  6 months later, I relapsed…

Now I was pretty much out of options.  I had doctors come in to convince me to enter a comfort care program.  Another words, time’s up!  I was given a 3 to 5 percent chance of survival with treatment and it would be very painful. My wife said that meant there was still hope… Only because of my family, I didn’t give up.  Although it was very tempting being in such a weak and painful state.  I tried one last strong Chemo and a prayer.  Well “They” got the painful part right.

Miraculously, treatment was successful and after months of recovery, I went into remission again.  This left my immune system wiped out and subjected to infections.  I spent periods of hospital stays fighting off infections, viruses and CMV disease.

Things were going along pretty good for the next couple of months given my weakened and fragile body.  I literally had to relearn to walk.  I couldn’t get up one step and needed help by one or two family members to get upstairs to my bedroom.  Severe fatigue was my constant battle to keep going.

Now I was hoping for life to settle down and concentrate on being with my family and getting stronger. Guess what?  Things were about to change again.  I was feeling alright when I went into the hospital for a CT scan.  I was experiencing a little intestinal discomfort.  The scan showed I had some perforations in my colon.  They admitted me for treatment which they said was not a big worry.

I was sitting on my hospital bed by myself while Ruth was talking to our loving nurses we became so close to.  Out of nowhere, this crazy looking surgeon barged in with urgency.  He told me that I needed to sign a release within the next 20 minutes to have much of my colon removed.  If not it burst toxins throughout my body and kill me almost instantly.  This idiot just ambushed me with no one around.  I literally called for help.  Nurses came in and we waited for my Team to come in and explain humanely! My entire family was called to come inWe were all very frightened again.

Now what this mad professor didn’t realize, if he had read my charts, my platelets were way too low to tolerate surgery.  My doctor’s brushed him out kindly.  I would have kicked him into tomorrow!  We regrouped and my team came up with a game plan.  They called in another team of —— doctors who monitored me around the clock.

The plan was to keep me on I V food and not allow me even a sip of water.  After 1 week, I graduated to an ice cube.  A couple weeks later I was given soup.  This allowed the perforations to start healing on their own.  Again this plan worked and I carefully started eating whole food. I was thin, weak and felt my back was up against the wall.  I was grateful to dodge another bullet.


 

I spent most of the next year at home trying to assimilate as much of a normal life as I could.  After the transplant I acquired a disease called GVHD (graft vs. host disease) this is where the donor cells attack my cells causing illness in different areas of the body.  It can affect the skin, intestines, lungs, stomach and dryness of the eyes and mouth.  For the most part my discomfort was the skin, eyes and mouth.

About 2 years after my colon problem, I started experience respiratory problems.  Pneumonia set in and my breathing became labored.  I was put on oxygen.  It was getting more and more difficult to catch my breath.  I was given a CT scan and the results determined I had pulmonary fibrosis.  This is an incurable life ending disease.  One morning I was suffocating and ambulanced to a hospital.  From there I was taken to a Hospice facility.  I knocked on heaven’s door, banged on it, kicked it in, and now I’m finally going in.

All I could think about was the hell I was putting my family through.  We beat so much and why now is it going to end.  Something I can’t put my finger on, but I still didn’t feel ready.  In Hospice, there is a fine line between comfort care and treatment.  Some treatments can make you feel comfort.  I was put on a strong antibiotic and waited my time.

I can’t begin to tell you how strange a feeling it is to do all your own funeral and church arrangements.  Even down to picking out my own casket.  I remembered trying to keep the conversation light at times.  A time during a laughing episode, I stepped out of myself and realized we were talking about my death.  In picking who would ride in the limo, the funeral director said there’s room for eight.  Your family of five and what three others?  I said my family will only be four, remember I won’t be in that car!  We got a good laugh about it…

I wrote about the feeling facing death in one of my many journals.  I wrote:                             The real world, the normal, everyday life world, was so utterly precious.  You only realize that when it’s gone, it is…

The End When Your Told:    I have full cognitive thinking and very little pain.  This is so hard to believe.  Immediately, I have no future, no plans, and no dreams.  I have nothing left to achieve or to accomplish.  I can’t even think about next Tuesday, nor next week or month.  I feel an emptiness for the future of my children and Ruth and how their life will proceed.  I spend many torturous hours thinking about the what if’s, and now, the what now’s.  I think about how much I will miss my entire family and friends.  I cry over this agony and the pain they’re going through.

Then it hits me.  What happens in the afterlife?  I am not afraid.  The unknowing is haunting but also exciting.  Maybe I will find amazing answers.  Will I see my family that has passed?  Will I be connected to my family’s life here on earth?

I don’t want to die now!  My mind is completely clear of reality and rationality.  It’s now a waiting game.

Time passed over the next 3 months.  I struggled with shortness of breath and weakness.  I was getting better slowly.  Hospice said they had to graduate me and make room for sicker patients.  This was better than graduating with a PHD.                                                                                                                             

Today, I am taking 2 steps forward and one step back.  I feel I am slowly gaining strength and endurance. I’m trying to exercise more, and eat a better diet in which I started from day one.  I’m still trying to connect the pieces for why I’m still here.  On this website I will tell  a lot of what I did.  Maybe this could help others.  Maybe we could connect the dots and find commonalty.

I realize nobody, and I mean nobody has any idea of what happens after this life is over.  I probably came as close to the afterlife as anyone could have.  I wasn’t even given a glimpse or morsel of would it would be like.  I do know it causes reflection on the way you lived your life.  It gives you a different insight and prospective on life.  It is a feeling that can’t be put in human terms.

All I know is that I am truly grateful for all the love and support of my family and friends.  I have had so many people I never met, tell me all the prayer groups I was in.  I do know, I wasn’t ready to go and I’m here to tell my story and be an inspiration to others.

Then it hits me.  What happens in the afterlife?  I am not afraid.  The unknowing is haunting but also exciting.  Maybe I will find amazing answers.  Will I see my family that has passed?  Will I be connected to my family’s life here on earth?

I don’t want to die now!  My mind is completely clear of reality and rationality.  It’s now a waiting game.

Time passed over the next 3 months.  I struggled with shortness of breath and weakness.  I was getting better slowly.  Hospice said they had to graduate me and make room for sicker patients.  This was better than graduating with a PHD.                                                                                                                             

Today, I am taking 2 steps forward and one step back.  I feel I am slowly gaining strength and endurance. I’m trying to exercise more, and eat a better diet in which I started from day one.  I’m still trying to connect the pieces for why I’m still here.  On this website I will tell  a lot of what I did.  Maybe this could help others.  Maybe we could connect the dots and find commonalty.

I realize nobody, and I mean nobody has any idea of what happens after this life is over.  I probably came as close to the afterlife as anyone could have.  I wasn’t even given a glimpse or morsel of would it would be like.  I do know it causes reflection on the way you lived your life.  It gives you a different insight and prospective on life.  It is a feeling that can’t be put in human terms.

All I know is that I am truly grateful for all the love and support of my family and friends.  I have had so many people I never met, tell me all the prayer groups I was in.  I do know, I wasn’t ready to go and I’m here to tell my story and be an inspiration to others.

 

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